Girls as Young as One Year Sexually Abused in Conflicts, UN Symposium Told

Friday, July 23 2010

New York, Jun 23 2006: Harrowing accounts of girls as young as one year-old being raped by foreign objects such as metal bars, nails and sticks, are among the most heart-wrenching testimonies presented at a United Nations-backed International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict currently underway in Brussels, Belgium.

"Green wood from the manioc plant had caused a great many problems creating fistulas especially in very young girls," Jean Pascal Manga of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) told the Symposium, sponsored by the UN Population Fund (">UNFPA), the Belgian Government and the European Commission.

Traumatic fistulas occur when tissues are ruptured during violent rape, leaving passages that constantly leak urine or faeces or both. Doctors and social service providers from countries affected by conflict yesterday called for greater resources to support women and children suffering from sexual violence, highlighting long-term consequences that require medical, social, legal and psychological services to help victims regain control of their lives.

Dr. Manga said treatment of rape and associated conditions had led doctors and other medical personnel into a new kind of medicine for which they were not prepared. "No one knew that you would find a fistula in a small girl under five years old, even as young as one year old," he said. "We face new conditions, and we need exchanges with our western colleagues to treat these problems."

He said there were about 25,000 women and girls who were raped and needed continuing support. "In Africa, once a woman has been raped, she may be abandoned by her entire family, and when she has a fistula and smells of urine, no one wants to be around her," he noted.

Among the 226 cases of fistula from rape, about 20 per cent of surgeries were a failure. He told participants that 90 per cent of women and girls who were raped had some kind of sexually transmitted infection and nearly 10 per cent were HIV positive. He said doctors like himself struggled to treat raped children with post-exposure medication to prohibit HIV infection, but it was difficult to reduce the dosage to suit their size. "The HIV positive children are malnourished and neglected, and even if we do adjust the dose, the children may overdose because they are weak," he explained, appealing for international support to alleviate the shortage of drugs and medical supplies, provide much needed training, and rebuild damaged hospitals and clinics.

In another presentation, Feryal Thabet, of the Bureij Women’s Health Centre in Gaza, said the border closure with Israel and escalating conflict were causing a deterioration of women’s health and an increase in violence against women. "More than one third of Palestinian pregnant women are anaemic," she said. "Early marriage is on the rise and so is high-risk pregnancy." She noted that antenatal visits to the centre were decreasing and 80 per cent of women did not receive any post-natal care in 2005. "There were 61 births at checkpoints with no medical assistance," she said.

Citing rising unemployment and poverty, she stressed that the increased vulnerability of women and unsafe sex were coupled with a lack of access to appropriate care and shortages of supplies, including contraceptives. The symposium, which involves government, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, is set to issue a call to action to address the needs of survivors of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.


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